This is your Brain on Electrodes

This is an pretty old post from my blog, which has been preserved in case its content is of any interest. You might want to go back to the homepage to see some more recent stuff.

Two interesting articles surfaced on the internet today that have resulted in rampant frothing from my location. The first, linked by @CampaignReboot, is this: “A Pacemaker for your Brain”.

The chip referred to in the article is implanted into the patient’s body, with electrodes placed deep within the brain. The algorithms used by the chip monitor the brain’s natural activity, and should that natural activity change or fail, the system can then use the electrodes to stimulate normal brain activity.

If it is effective, this could have massive benefits for those suffering from long-term debilitating brain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Great! But when I read the article, I can’t help but parse its content into “this chip has read-write access to your brain”.

Obviously its small size requires it to be a very simple chip, capable of replicating proper neuronal activity to only a very general and non-specific extent – much the same as a pacemaker keeps a heart in rhythm without understanding what it is interacting with. It’s not going to be enough to affect your thoughts or your memories.

But it might be enough for me to fire up my compiler and start coding a drug. Recreational, performance-enhancing, y’know. Whatever sells.

Unfortunately, to produce anything better than these kind of large-scale, insensitive effects on the brain would require much more processing power than a little chip can achieve right now. It would also require a much better understanding of how the brain computes, and to start doing that, we’d have to build a computer that operates like a brain.

Oh. Okay, that seems to be going pretty well too.

So, er… Can we bump up the electrode count on the ReNa, give it and the million-core processor a bit of WiFi, and see if we can make ourselves some Guardian Angels? Because I would be camping outside the lab like an Apple fanboy on NewiPhonemas.


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